The importance of the vagus nerve
The vagus nerve is the body’s in-built relaxation system, all we need to do is learn how to access it.
The vagus nerve is known as the “wandering nerve” because it has multiple branches that diverge from two thick stems rooted in the cerebellum and brainstem that wander to the lowest viscera of the abdomen, touching the heart and most major organs along the way. Healthy vagal tone is indicated by a slight increase of heart rate when you inhale, and a decrease of heart rate when you exhale.
In 1921, a German physiologist named Otto Loewi discovered that stimulating the vagus nerve caused a reduction in heart rate by triggering the release of a substance he coined Vagus Substance. This was later named acetylcholine and became the first neurotransmitter ever identified by scientists.
The Vagus nerve acts as the mind-body connection, and it is the cabling behind the heart’s emotions and “gut instincts”. It also ends the body’s fight-or-flight response once the trigger for the stress has passed.
Crucially, there is also evidence that the vagus nerve combats inflammation, which Chinese Medicine refers to as ‘heat’.
We consider this heat to be a major cause of imbalance and eventually illness. In the Western world, science is now increasingly aligning to this ancient view that inflammation is hugely destructive and appears to be at the root of many major illnesses.
So quintessential to managing mind state, the stress response, inflammation and anxiety levels lies in being able to activate this calming nervous pathway of the parasympathetic system. In so doing the heart rate slows, the mind calmed, blood deeply oxygenated, blood pressure drops and muscles relax.
The vagus nerve can not be controlled on demand, but can be indirectly stimulated with deep diaphragmatic breathing (with a long, slow exhale), and exercise or massage techniques all abundant in Chinese Medicine and central to the Hayo’u Method.
A very simple way to achieve this is practicing the Rescue Breath ritual. This is a simple one-minute breathing exercise based on a Taoist practice called the ‘Smiling breath’.
This conscious smiling breath instantly moves awareness out of the head and deeply into the energetic centre of the body. It can be as short as one inhalation or extended into an effective “Yang” meditation.
The additional benefit of the Rescue Breath Ritual is that the smile tricks our constantly chattering ‘monkey mind’ into focusing positively into our centre one breath at a time. This makes it instantly beneficial or easy to practice for a prolonged period.
Ideally practice an extended Rescue Breath meditation in a Hayo’u mineral bath followed by the one minute Body Restorer Ritual.
Master the Rescue Breath here.
Assessment of the Effects of Pranayama/Alternate Nostril Breathing on the Parasympathetic Nervous System in Young Adults.
Anant Narayan Sinha – Published 2013 in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research